How Uber is using Gamification to Manipulate Drivers

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Uber users do not like to wait for their ride. The service should act very quickly. But that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Drivers are not employed by Uber; they drive whenever it suits them. Uber can not instruct drivers when and how long they should be driving. So how does Uber guarantee a short waiting period?

According to the New York Times, Uber manipulates drivers by using psychological tricks from videogames (gamification). They’ve noticed Uber’s efforts after interviewing several former and current employees, such as data-analysts, social scientists and drivers.

Objectives by Uber

Many drivers have said to receive messages from the company encouraging them to stay on the road to earn more money. So what kind of messages are we talking about? What are these psychological triggers?

Ludic Loop

The first method is called the ludic loop, which is a concept coming from the gaming industry. The ludic loop creates a feeling of progress toward a certain goal that is always just beyond the player’s grasp.

A great example of this concept is the 1980s hit game called Tetris. Stacking blocks on top of each other until that one block appears that will vaporise 4 complete lines. Pure satisfaction! But as soon as that puzzle has resolved itself, new ones are immediately created. More anticipation, more goals, more satisfaction. A never ending loop of reaching that new high score.

Tetris and the Ludic Loop

Tetris and the Ludic Loop – Pure satisfaction and addictive

So how is Uber using the ludic loop? When drivers are logging out, they receive a message saying that they’re only a few dollars short of reaching a new objective. Just have a look at the screenshot below.

Encourage Uber drivers to stay on the road.

Encourage drivers to stay on the road.


Drivers can also earn badges. “Excellent Service” or “Great Conversation” are just a few of the available badges. Handing out or earning badges is also a concept from the gaming industry. Whenever gamers reach a certain goal, they would receive a virtual badge for a job well done.

Badges are a powerful tool. New York Times spoke to a driver, who made it his full time job. He earned less than 20.000$ for the entire year (without car maintenance, fuel, …), struggling to make ends meet, but was proud of earning 21 badges.

Binge Driving

Another little trick is called ‘forward dispatch’, in which drivers already receive a new job before the current job has finished. Nothing as dull as waiting for a drive, right? This ensures the continuous stream of new jobs. Both driver and Uber are happy.

There is a downside to it though. Researchers have noticed the addictive effect it has on people. You can compare it with Netflix and how they persuade viewers in watching one episode after the other one. This trick was so effective that Uber had to create a “pause button” because they noticed that drivers barely took any breaks in between jobs.

Binge watching on Netflix

Binge watching on Netflix

Where to make money?

Uber drivers receive a lot of messages, trying to convince them to start driving. For example, they would show them which zone has the highest demand of its service. Uber even introduced Laura, a female persona, to speak these messages out loud because the majority of the drivers are men.


Not only Uber is using these concepts from the gaming industry to motivate people. Think about all the loyalty programs that retailers have in store for example. Even UX Designers can learn a lot from the gaming industry!

Paul Olyslager

Paul is the creator, editor and most regular writer of He's also working as UX Lead for Home24, a leading online shop for furniture and home accessories, based in Berlin, Germany. Read all about Paul or find him on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

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No responses yet to “How Uber is using Gamification to Manipulate Drivers”

  1. JuanCarlos says

    I think I got nefariously played by Uber. I started getting messages telling me $100 bonus for completing 3 trips. What appeared to be drivers chiming in saying it was legit coz they had received $100 motivated me to reactivate. Did all the forms, got all my car docs in order, detailed my car, then began the waiting game for my background approval. I have driven before, 1 year back, so it shouldn’t be an issue. Every day I get emails telling me the promo is on day 9 of 15, 10 of 15, etc. After waiting 8 days for background approval I called & was told 3 days is the longest it should ever take. They escalated my call & I was told 3 to 5 BUSINESS days. Fine. It’s been 5. Friday went by & I was promised by Monday morning at very latest. The supervisor told me my report was clean & there was no reason for any snags. The $100 promo ends Monday morning at 5:00a.m. on the day of my approval. This coincides with your info above. I have been relentlessly nagged to keep pursuing a goal while they waived a carrot in front of me in hopes of attaining something that would remain just beyond my grasp. Meanwhile the heat map pops up every day showing $9.25 extra per trip in the very zone I am in, with a msg saying, “We will let you know when you can drive.” I’m livid with them. Infuriating.

  2. Jeff says

    For the last year I’ve felt that proverbial horse and carrot scenario. The land of Uber Platinum where I can get college paid for seems like just a myth. I gotta get a certain rating from the passenger while keeping cancellations low and acceptance rate high. They seem to forget ( or likely they know all too well) that our society is inundated with trolls who exact digital revenge at the smallest perceived slight. Pop quiz hot shot, Passenger arrives with too many riders ( say 5 ppl for an UberX). Do you (a) tell them that you can only take 4 per Uber policy, this risking their pseudo wrath and a 1star rating (b) cancel the ride all together, losing money and wasting your time just to keep from having a low rating from riders or (c) take the ride anyway risking your ability to continue driving or, in some cases, violating the law? In today’s Karen-filled society, companies seem to rely too much on subjective complaints over objective evidence. 4 rides short of a bonus, account gets deactivated due to a rating that hasn’t changed in months.

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